Jordan Peele (USA, 1979), originally a television actor and comedian, debuted
with the horror movie Get Out (2017), which relies on a painstakingly
architected plot with sociopolitical innuendos about the
racist unconscious that still pervades white society.
At night a black man is walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Suddenly a car
stops, a man gets out, hits the black man and loads his body into the trunk.
Rose is a white girl who is dating a black photographer. They are getting ready
to visit her wealthy parents. Chris is uncomfortable that she forgot to tell
them that he is black. Rose drives through a forest and hits a deer. They
are not injured but under shock. A cop stops to check on them and demands to see
Chris' id. Rose gets upset because she is the one who was driving. It is
obvious that the cop is simply being racist against a black man.
Just before the accident,
Chris called his best friend Rod, who works for the government agency TSA,
specialized in preventing terrorist attacks.
When they arrive at the isolated mansion, they are welcomed by two black
servants, a man and a woman, Walter and Georgina. There is something in
their gaze that disturbs Chris. Rose's mom is a psychotherapist who
specializes in hypnosis, particularly to make smokers quit, and Chris is
a smoker who is trying to quit. Rose's father is a neurosurgeon. Rose's
obnoxious brother joins them during dinner. They all make comments of a
veiled racist nature, and later Rose is upset about her family's racism.
Chris wakes up during the night. Unable to sleep, he walks outside to smoke
a cigarette and is almost run over by Walter, who seems to be a very athletic
man. Chris sees Georgina at the window and stares at her.
Rose's mom invites him in the living room and starts psychoanalyzing him.
He saw his mother die. It turns out he didn't do anything to save her,
he simply kept watching tv. Of course, he was only a child, but the guilt
is still there and she brings it out. While she's making him talk about this,
she keeps turning the spoon in a teacup. Eventually he gets hypnotized
and he feels like sinking into the floor. He wakes up and we suspect it was
all a dream, but later Walter apologizes for almost hitting him during the
night, which means that it was not a dream. Rose's parents throw a garden
party during which Chris seems to be the main attraction. Everybody makes
slightly racist comments of one kind or another. He is reassured when he
sees a black man called Logan, married to a much older white woman, but soon realizes that Logan's behavior is
not normal. Chris doesn't enjoy the conversations so he starts taking
pictures of people. The only interesting person is a blind man who turns
out to be a famous gallery owner who is familiar with Chris' photographic
work. He lost his eyesight to a genetic disease. When Chris walks upstairs,
we see that all the guests stop talking. Chris finds that his mobile phone has
been unplugged so its batteries are dead, and tells Rose that it must have
been Georgina because she resents a black man among white people.
Chris calls Rod and tells him that he has been hypnotized, and that it worked
and he is cured of the smoking addiction. Rod is terrified.
Georgina comes to apologize for unplugging his phone but she doesn't sound
She cries and laughs at the same time as if she had a split personality.
Chris rejoins the party and shoots a picture of Logan with the flash.
The flash provokes a violent reaction in Logan who shouts "get out!" to Chris.
They call it a seizure, but Chris knows what a seizure looks like and that
was not one. Chris tells Rose that he seems to remember having met Logan before.
Meanwhile the guests are playing bingo in front of a portrait of Chris,
and the blind gallery owner wins.
Chris tells Rose of his childhood trauma, that he let his mom bleeding to
death and kept watching television.
The guests leave.
He sends the picture of Logan to Rod and Rod recognizes an old acquaitance
called Andre. When Chris tells him that Logan is now married to a woman
twice his age, Rod suspects that Andre has been kidnapped and forced to
become a sex slave.
Rod tells Chris to leave immediately. Chris agrees and tells Rose.
Then he finds a box with pictures of Rose's former boyfriends, all of them
black, and also pictures of Georgina and Walter. We realize that Rose has been
luring young healthy black man to the house all the time.
Now Chris really wants to leave, and clearly can't trust Rose either.
Rose pretends that she can't find the car keys, and eventually admits that
they just can't let him leave. Her brother Jeremy corners Chris and her
mother hypnotizes him by touching the teacup. Chris "sinks" again.
Rod keeps calling invain Chris' mobile phone. Worried, he looks for Andre
on the Internet and finds out that Andre disappeared six months earlier.
Meanwhile, Chris wakes up tied to a chair in front of a TV set. The TV set
shows a message recorded by Roman, Rose's grandfather, in which Roman
explains that they are going to perform an operation called Coagula on him.
Then the TV set displays the spoon clinking in the teacup and Chris "sinks"
again in hypnosis. Meanwhile, Rod tells the cops what he discovered about
Andre and that Chris has disappeared, but the cops laugh at his theory
that white people are hypnotizing blacks to become sex slaves.
Rod calls Rose's phone and she picks up. Rod can tell that she is lying,
but she is smart: she starts accusing Rod of having a crush on her.
The blind gallery owner appears on the TV set to tell Chris that the
operation will consist in transplanting the blind man's consciousness into
Chris' brain: Chris will remain barely conscious of being operated by another
consciousness. Chris is now told that this is what Coagula is: a procedure
to transfer a white person's consciousness into a black person's healthy body.
Now we realize that the blind man won the right to Chris at the bingo game:
all the guests of the party were white people who are waiting for a chance
to use the body of a black man.
The clinking spoon puts Chris asleep again.
Rose's father is ready in the surgery room. He takes a scalpel and removes
the blind man's scalp and presumably extracts the part of the brain that
contains the blind man's identity. Jeremy is dispatched to pick up Chris,
but Chris has found a way to outsmart them: he has plugged his ears so that
the clinking spoon didn't hypnotize him. Chris runs away, kills Rose's
father and then Rose's mother who try to stop him. He then kills Jeremy.
Rose is listening to music with headphones and realizes only too late that
Chris found the car keys and is leaving. Rose grabs a gun but doesn't shoot
when she sees Georgina being hit by the car: Rose says "granma". We now
realize what happened to Rose's grandparents who invented the procedure
and have not been seen yet: they turned themselves into Georgina and Walter.
Chris can't leave the unconscious Georgina in the driveway and loads her
in the car, giving Rose time to run after them. Georgina regains consciousness
and assaults Chris, causing him to crash against a tree. Georgina dies,
Chris is injured, Rose is getting closer and Walter joins her.
Walter is about to shoot Chris but Chris remembers the effect of the flash
on Logan and presses the flash button of his mobile phone: sure enough
Walter regains control for a split second, shoots Rose and then shoots himself.
Rose is not dead yet. Chris tries to strangle her to make sure she dies while
she keeps repeating that she loves him. He can't finish her. A police car
arrives. We expect that the cops will arrest the black man found with so
many dead people: it is natural for racist cops to suspect that the black man
is a mass murderer. Luckily, the "cop" is actually his best friend Rod,
who used his tools at the TSA to find the mansion's address. Rod and Chris
take off leaving Rose die.
We now realize that the first scene of the film was about white people
kidnapping black people for the purpose of Coagula.
Us (2019), his second horror movie,
plays with the multiple meanings of the word "us/U.S" to create a mix of
philosophical, existential and sociopolitical dimensions.
The philosophical dimension is about what you do when you have to kill
someone who looks just like you, and knowing that your double has a good
reason for trying to kill you just like you have a good reason for trying
to kill her.
The existential dimension is anchored to an old
cinematic meme: the anti-hero who has to abandon her (usually "his")
comfortable bourgeoise life, rise up and fight against
a much more powerful nemesis, so that the film becomes a lengthy duel between
the person with whom we identify and the "monster". This anti-hero turned
hero appears in a vast spectrum of films, from
Hitchcock's North by Northwest to Spielberg's Duel, via
countless sci-fi movies.
The film begins with a caption that there are endless tunnels.
In 1986 a TV channel is showing a commercial about an anti-poverty charity drive
called "Hands Across America", a real fact of 1986 during which US citizens
held hands from coast to coast all the way to the president in the White House.
Russell has taken his wife and his daughter Addy (a black family)
to an amusement park on the beach of Santa Cruz.
A bum holds a cardboard sign that simply says "Jeremiah 11:11" (which in the Bible reads as
"I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them").
While her father is distracted and her mother
is at the restrooms, Addy
wanders off and enters the hall of mirrors.
The lights go off. The looks for the exit but it is reflected everywhere and
everywhere she can see her own reflection. She hears someone whistling.
Then suddely she sees herself...
but it is not a reflection, it is a real body that stares into her eyes.
Thirty years later Addy is a mother of two children, teenager Zora and child
Jason. Her husband drives
their nice car to their summer house. A flashback shows Addy the girl
unable to speak and her parents discussing with a psychologist what can be
done, and the psychologist suggesting classical dance.
Thirty years later, Addy and her husband Gabe have an argument about
going to that very beach. Addy doesn't want to but Gabe tells her that
a couple of friends are waiting for them there. Gabe also gets a motorboat.
The following day, as they drive into town, they watch as an ambulance takes
away an old man who carries the same biblical sign that Addy saw as a girl
on that same beach. Addy and Gabe meet a white couple and try to relax,
but Jason goes to the restrooms without telling his parents and witnesses
strange people (two girls who utter the exact same words, a bum with his
arms outstretched as if crucified with bloody hands. Addy panics when she
can't find Jason but it seems to be a false alarm.
Addy tells Gabe of what happened 30 years earlier in the hall of mirrors,
but Gabe dismisses her fear.
During the night, however, as a digital clock displays the "11:11",
four dark figures appear outside their summer
house. Addy panics and immediately calls the police (that will never show up).
Gabe shouts at them to leave but they don't move. Then they attack.
The man breaks into the front door and turns out to be a double of Gabe.
The woman and the children break into the other doors and turn out copies
of Addy and of the children. They wear red coveralls and are armed with scissors.
Addy's double starts telling her that she is her shadow and that they are
"tethered" to them, they live the same lives, move the same way, but
they are confined to their underground world. Addy grew up happy and loved,
while her "shadow" was suffering underground.
Addy's double handcuffs her while the other copies chase the originals.
Zora runs from her double. Gabe jumps in the boat and manages to kill his double.
Jason plays a trick on his double, which remains locked in a closet.
Addy's double runs to his rescue and this allow mom and son to escape
and join father and daughter. They all jump in the motorboat.
Their friends are no any luckier: their copies attack them and kill them
brutally and easily (unlike the copies of Addy and Gabe, these other "tethered"
ones don't waste time in discussions).
Gabe and Addy have the bad idea to head to their house, so they are attacked
by the copies as soon as they knock at the door. The daughter kills two.
Addy is seized by the female tethered but this double too takes forever to kill
her, so eventually the daughter saves Addy, and in the meantime Gabe kills
the male tethered with a flare gun. Now the family can relax in the house
and watch television: the evening news is already talking about the strange
events of Santa Cruz, but without full knowledge of the truth.
Gabe and Addy argue about what to do: Addy wants to flee and she prevails.
They decide to take the car of their friends. While searching for the keys,
Addy is attacked one more time by a tethered. Addy is still handcuffed
and Gabe is wounded, so the teenager Zora drives. Suddenly her double appears
in front of the car. Zora does not hesitate to run her over but the double
jumps on the roof of the car and tries to cut through the roof and
the windshield with her scissors. Zora accelerates and breaks until her double
is thrown against a tree. Addy walks down in the dark to make sure she's really
dying. The following morning the family drives into Santa Cruz which is now
a deserted city, littered with corpses. Their car is on fire and Jason's double
is standing in front of them. Addy gets out of the car, determined to kill
the kid, and realizes too late that it is a trap: Jason's double immolates
himself in the fire only to give his mom (Addy's double) a chance to kidnap
the real Jason. Addy now has to chase her double while her husband and her
daughter take shelter in an abandoned ambulance.
Addy chases her double in the same hall of mirrors where they first met.
There is a secret tunnel that leads in an underground laboratory full of
rabbits. When she finally finds her double, she gets a lecture. The double tells
her that the tethered are the product of a failed experiment, but the bottom
line is that they were dumped underground, condemned to double every act of
their human counterparts. She doesn't say it but it is obvious that the tethered ones have only one limitation: they cannot speak... except for Addy's double,
the only tethered who speaks. The day Addy's double ran into Addy she decided to
organize a revolt and to overthrow the humans.
As Addy, advised by the psychologist, learned classical dance, so did her double
Addy and her double fight a
lengthy duel and (of course) Addy wins, laughing hysterically when her double
finally dies, whistling the same whistle we heard in the first hall of mirrors
scene. Addy finds Jason in a closet, and Jason seems dubious of her mom's
real identity. Outside they immediately find Gabe and Zora in the ambulance
(of course) and Addy gets behind the steering wheel and drives away.
We keep seeing flashbacks of Addy dancing on stage and of her double dancing
But then a flashback returns to the hall of mirrors in 1986 and shows what
really happened. When the double met Addy, the double kidnapped Addy, took her
clothes and handcuffed her to a bed
(which is also why first thing the double did was to handcuff Addy, revenge!).
Then the double walked out to the beach and joined Addy's parents, pretending
to be the real Addy. That's why
"Addy" couldn't talk: the double didn't know how to talk, like all the
tethered ones. Now we realize why Addy's double
was the only tethered able to speak: she was the real Addy.
Addy is driving away, happy to have saved her family, but the helicopter
shows that the tethered are winning their revolution and their control now
extends over the whole world.
The sociopolitical dimension is less explicit and more nuanced, but it is
presented from the very beginning. Peele repeatedly employs
sarcasm delivered with the hilarious innuendos of a TV sitcom.
He starts with references to a national anti-poverty campaign of 1986 that
asked people to hold hands across the country and ends with a caricatural reenactment of it by the zombies.
The story is littered with
sarcastic references to the high-tech comfort of rich families.
He plays the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" when a rich family is being
slaughtered in its vacation home, and NWA's "Fuck the Police" when the
victims desperately need help from the people.
Then there are more serious metaphors about the
invisible underclass (illegal immigrants, descendants of African slaves,
underpaid workers in foreign countries) that support the lifestyle of
the US middle class.
For each middle-class person who enjoys a high standard of living
there's a slave somewhere that lives "underground".
Peele roots for the lumperproletariat and presents a vision of
the language-impaired slaves rising up and taking over the refined educated
middle-class, of a
social and economic system doomed to self-destruction.
Peele has clearly watched a lot of classics. This film nods to Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
Steven Spielberg's Jaws,
Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds,
Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor,
the underground tunnels of Them!, and so on.
Much of the plot is implausible (the zombies kill everybody right away but,
guess what, they always hesitate and postpone killing the protagonists and
clumsily offer them countless chances to escape and even strike back);
but the shocking revelation at the end certainly makes for a powerful finale.
And Peele shows to be a master of the genre in the meticulous construction of the scenes for maximum psychological effect.
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